Granta: London, 1997 /photo © M Pennington, design React
This volume of autobiography – from her earliest childhood recollections to the age of 22 at the beginning of the Second World War – is written in the subjective voice of the author as her childhood self at the specific age being revisited.
Writing it was a traumatic experience for Leila, involving re-living the experiences as the child lived them. The result is a succession of scenes not connected in the usual way, but – like the flickerbook of the title – giving the illusion of a moving picture.
From inside cover: Unusual for an autobiography, Flickerbook is a re-living rather than a remembering. The distinguished children’s author and writer on children and education, Leila Berg, re-experiences her early Jewish childhood and adolescence during the twenties and thirties up until the day when the first air-raid siren sounded.
Nourished in her battle to make sense of the world by the riches of Manchester – the theatre, the bookstalls, the music, the cinema, a joyful love of the surrounding countryside – she grows into a fiercely independent young woman, and joins the anti-fascists, then the Young Communists. Refusing to go to university, appalled by her brief experience of teacher training college, she falls in love; but both her lovers are killed, fighting in Spain in the International Brigade.
Leila Berg introduces us to a sad, funny and passionate child who we see grow through the years. Flickerbook is and extraordinarily honest and moving autobiography which will change the way we think about children and childhood forever.
‘A strikingly original autobiography, vivid and poetic, funny, sensuous and searingly raw, it goes a long way to explain why Leila Berg has spent so much of her life fighting fiercely and often provocatively for the right of children to be listened to, understood and accepted.’
Times Educational Supplement
‘Berg has decided in favour of glimpses and vignettes, and against the smooth dishonesty of narrative connection … a winning, frank and highly readable memoir which shows how successfully one may apply techniques of fiction to one’s own life … This is what Leila Berg has captured; not static images of childhood, but something of its process.’
Hilary Mantel, London Review of Books
‘Parents owe Leila Berg a debt … an evocative picture of a time and a society, shot through with brilliant vignettes.’
‘The brief literary form she has pioneered for herself – not quite a pensee or aphorism, I suppose you’d have to call it a “flick” – makes her book a delight to read, but also underscores the emotions of these intense, disorienting years. What we get, in the end, is a wonderfully vivid depiction of the radicalism of the 1930s and, beyond that, an exceptionally artful and honest portrait of adolescent rites of passage.’
Independent on Sunday
‘This may be the autobiography of one little maid, from baby bridesmaid to Young Communist rebel losing two lovers to the Spanish Civil War, but it has a universal quality – you’ll be catapulted straight back to your own childhood.’
‘She marvellously portrays the frazzling bewilderment that nearly all children suffer, remembers exactly how it felt to be locked into profound and terrifying ignorance.’
‘It works in difficult places, this book . . . Berg is a fine, evocative writer, with a great ear and eye.’
‘The style is more James Joyce than Gerald Durrell . . . a sensual, musing account.’
‘[This] extraordinary memoir . . . is a series of evocative images which tentatively re-create the emotions of a young girl. As a distinguished children’s author, Berg is uniquely qualified to attempt this ambitious reconstruction . . . [it] works magnificently well . . . the honesty and poetic insight of this superb autobiography.’
Times Literary Supplement